Zero Hour – Zero Hour 9,5/10
1998, Independent release
Zero Hour – The Towers of Avarice 10/10
2001, Sensory Records
Sometimes when I browse for something to listen to at home I find the odd record that make you go; “why the hell didn´t these guys make it big?”. They had everything going for them. Great songs that are arranged beautifully, a fairly unique musical expression, thoughtful lyrics, some serious musical chops and incredible vocals.
One of those bands filed under “Brilliant But Unkown” is Zero Hour from California, USA. I´ll be looking closer at their stellar debut offering, the minialbum “Metamorphosis”, the awesome concept album “The Towers of Avarice” and also be having a chat with guitar mastermind Jasun Tipton.
*Hi Jasun! Hope everything is good on your end! Thank you for taking time to have a quick chat with me about your band Zero Hour.
Jasun: Thank you Marty and It’s my pleasure!
*Can you tell me a little about the history of Zero Hour, how you started out, did you play in other bands before?
Jasun: In high school my brother and I played in a band called Travesty. However, I was playing keyboards in the band and Troy was always on bass. It was a mix of covers like Highway Star by Deep Purple, S.A.T.O. by Ozzy and some originals. Shortly after Troy played in a band called Beggars Opera and they were a talented group. They played many local gigs and did a couple of demos. Mikey played in a local band called Destin Angel which played out often and recorded a couple of demos. Erik was in a band called Prodigy that recorded a 2 song demo and I want to say they played a couple local gigs. Eventually my brother and I started Zero Hour with Mike Guy (drummer). A year later Erik came into the fold and we were really focused on recording a professional ep. With the help of Dino Alden, Matt Guillory and Phil Bennett we achieved that. It brought us interest from many labels, vendors, magazines, fanzines, etc. Zero Hour became a name in the progressive-metal world which led us to getting signed, touring and playing festivals in Europe and the States.
*How did Matt Guillory (of Dali´s Dilemma/James LaBrie/Solo fame) get involved?
Jasun: Dali’s Dilemma played in the room right next to us at the practice place. As everyone knows Matt is an extremely talented keyboardist and songwriter. We were very close and had some good times with plenty of laughs. It was very inspiring to have that group of people (Dali’s Dilemma) right next to us. Troy, Mikey and I were over at Mike Varney’s estate as he had interest in Zero Hour. He mentioned we should talk to Matt about laying some keyboards down for ZH.
*Personally I find that your brand of progressive metal is pretty unique. What are your influences in metal and beyond?
Jasun: At that time we were very influenced by Rainbow, Dream Theater, The Pat Metheny group, Queensryche, Meshuggah, Cynic, Tool, King Crimson, John Doan, Michael Hedges, Michael Manring and Buckethead to name a few. We were inspired by so many artist from all sorts of genres.
*One of my favorite albums of all time is your first full lenght record, “The Towers of Avarice”. Can you tell me about how that record came about and your feelings about it all these years later?
Jasun: We were riding high on the s/t release getting nice attention. The band was very hungry to top that release and cementing our sound in the genre. We poured so much positive energy into that release and the material was just flowing. Our vision was very clear. The Towers of Avarice sounds just as good today as when I heard the final mixes at Dino’s studio for the first time.
*Did Zero Hour ever get over to Europe? You guys would kill it on the european festival circuit and rock clubs!
Jasun: We were very fortunate to play many great festivals, events and shows throughout Europe. From Progpower Europe, PPC music summer fest, Headway, Ultrasound and Westfalen.
*During the first years of the new millenium, the music business was in upheaval. File sharing on the internet posed a threat to physical sales and technology was evolving before our very eyes at a rate that no one could have foreseen. How much do you think filesharing hurt Zero Hour?
Jasun: File sharing definitely hurt the business. I’m still a believer of when there’s good music (and especially in the Progressive Metal market) the word gets out. People who enjoy the material want to spread the word.
*Tell me about what happened after “The Towers of Avarice” was released. You did “A Fragile Mind” with Fred Marshall on lead vocals for instance.
Jasun: That period is a big blur to me In many areas. The Towers of Avarice was very well received in the progressive metal community and we had a ton of momentum going into the next release. The story is way long and brings back some very difficult moments that were thrown into our lap (my brother and I). Being in a band isn’t easy. You see and hear so many things. You could be on the road and other individuals outside of the band telling you a conversation from a member that’s unsettling yet that member tells you something completely different. When this happen it’s just best communicate about it. Really no need to go there because that’s in the past. I’m focused about today and moving forward. So I hope you don’t mind as I’m going tip toe around this question. One thing I can say is I ran into Fred at a Fates Warning / Queensryche show. We had a nice exchange of words and I’m glad he’s doing well.
*Chris Salinas (formerly of excellent progressive metal band Power of Omens) then entered the band as “Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond” and remained until Zero Hour eventually disbanded.
Jasun: Chris brought great energy to the band and is a hell of a singer. He has a good heart and we had some amazing times out on the road. When Dark Deceiver came about Troy was having lots of problems with his left arm. His ulnar nerve was entrapped and he basically had no feeling in his left arm. After the surgery and a difficult recovery, Troy had his limitations which mean’t the end of Zero Hour.
*After Zero Hour came to an end, you and your brother Troy Tipton (bass) started Abnormal Thought Patterns and Cynthesis. Do tell us a little about that!
Jasun: Troy had limitations after the surgery but still wanted to create and see how far we could push. The difficult part for Troy is just holding a note for a long period of time as it would run up his arm all the way up to his neck. Legato work on his left hand was very difficult for Troy. He was so fluent with his legato style and the surgery took that away. We did forge forward with forming Cynthesis with Sean Flanegan on drums and Erik on vocals. I really enjoyed Cynthesis for that it was different from Zero Hour. Very atmospheric but had it’s intense moments as well. Cynthesis didn’t have any double kick In the music which was very different from ZH. Sean is a fantastic drummer and I knew he would be perfect for that material.
Abnormal Thought Patterns was an accident but a very cool accident. When I got my recording gear up and running I was writing instrumentals for fun to learn more of the ins and outs of recording. My brother lit up when he heard it and said we have to do an instrumental band like this. Mikey wanted to do it as well and we create some really cool stuff with that band. We got signed to Lifeforce Records and we recorded an EP and two full lengths. What was very cool is on the last release Troy had two of his bass heroes involved on a song he wrote. Michael Manring and John Onder contributed solos on that track and Troy was on cloud nine.
Abnormal Thought Patterns only did one vocal track. On vocals was Tommy Rogers of Between The Buried and Me and the amazing Jeff Loomis for a couple guest solos and my buddy Tom Roth of Into Eternity hitting out a beautiful acoustic sequence. Unfortunately that was the end as Troy’s progress would take a step forward then take two steps back. With that said my brother is doing very well as he’s very happy with wife Elena and his beautiful son Jasun. Yes he named him after me… How cool is that?
*That is so awesome!
Now, just a couple of weeks ago you went public with the announcement that Zero Hour is making a comeback! Great news of course so can you tell me what was the spark to light up the ZH-engines again? Troy is no longer playing with the band for obvious and tragic reasons.
What is in store for Zero Hour?
Jasun: Yes, it’s very exciting right now. Erik Rosvold is back on vocals and we have Roel van Helden on drums and Andreas Blomqvist on bass. I can’t wait for everyone to hear what we’ve cooked up. We’re going back to the style of The Towers of Avarice and Metamorphosis. It’s been very refreshing as The Towers of Avarice was the last time I recorded on a six string. All six string 440 and nothing but riff after riff with an outstanding rhythm section. Erik has had the material for awhile and is working away on it. I know Erik will bring his best. When I approached Erik about reforming we agreed it’s about recording and supporting the material with playing out. We’re very excited to see where it goes.
*Thank you so much for taking your time to have a chat with me, Jasun!
Jasun: Thank you!
Now, let´s take a closer look at that peculiar little masterpiece that is Zero Hour´s debut, the self titled minialbum from way back in 1998.
Zero Hour – Zero Hour
You know, it´s funny how most bands need at least three records, years of sweat and toil on the road and maybe a line-up change to mature and find their own place in the world whereas some others arrive on the scene, fully formed and raring to go.
Zero Hour falls in the latter category.
If you´d humour me, I have a little story to tell you about my relation to the California based group.
During the very last years of the last century, I studied at Vindelns Folkhögskola, a wonderful community college. One of the many great things about this school was that they had plenty of computers and pretty awesome bandwith considering the day and age. This made it possible to download or stream music which was pretty unusual back then. Since I was seriously hooked on progressive metal thanks to my obsession with Dream Theater, I searched far and wide for a new “fix”. An online friend from the US gave me a tip about this new act called Zero Hour. After some digging I found a site that had two songs; “Eyes of Denial” and “Voice of Reason” available.
Sweet muppety Jesus! I played these songs until I knew them back to front, every syncopated rhytm, every haunting melody, every single detail was absorbed. And now I wanted more. But living in Sweden made that a bit of a hassle since no retailers had even heard the name, let alone was willing to import it. And it must be said, since it was an independent release it didn´t make things easier. So I continued to drag my bag of bones still wanting to lay my hands on this most precious of albums. Yeah, imagine me in full on Gollum mode.
However, after graduating my girlfriend (now my dear wife) and I took a short vacation and flew down to Sweden´s capital Stockholm for some shopping and quality time with friends. Remember that during this time, 1999, filesharing was in it´s infancy so record stores was still very much in business.
And my favourite one was without a single doubt the legendary Mellotronen, situated in Old Town (Gamla Stan) in a musty basement. So there we were, having travelled over 1000 kilometers from home, stoked to find new, exiting music and have a chat with the very nice shopowners.
Lo and behold, what is playing when we cross the threshold to this sanctum of progressive goodness?
Well, it wasn´t the Spice Girls.
To this very day, just thinking about that moment gives me chills. What were the chances?
So… was it any good then, you ask?
Good heavens, YES!
Imagine a heavier Fates Warning with virtouso playing, versatile and heartfelt vocals and terrific melodies. Dino Aldens production shines, crispy and clear with a heavy low end. Opener, the aforementioned “Eyes of Denial” gently kicks your teeth in courtesy of the powerful, punchy riffing. Add to that Matt Guillory´s keyboards floating like a threatening veil over the proceedings as singer Eric Roswold assuredly takes us by the hand and beckons us to take this perilous journey into the very mechanisms of the bands music.
“If the child grows knowing only what it´s told
then the man can learn only as his history unfolds
The roots of hatred we don´t always see
and so are left to grow…” From “Voice of Reason”.
And what a voyage it is! Despite having heard hundreds of bands in the genre over the years not one of them sounds like Zero Hour. You can find similarities, of course but the mix of tightly syncopated riffs, a lot of glorious tapping from Troy Tipton on bass who plays like his life was dependent on it only adds to the uniqueness. I must admit that I rarely take the time to listen to the bass but Tiptons fluid and melodic playing matches those of Martin Mendes of Opeth fame. He is that good.
That goes for the lot of them. Guitarist Jasun Tipton is nothing short of incredible with superb timing, sweeping arpeggios galore and insanely clever riffing. Powerhouse drummer Mike Guy deserves a shout out as well. His task is not an easy one but he pulls it off easily. And what can be said about our guide through this aural adventure; Eric Roswold then? His performance is nothing short of sublime. His use of dynamics, his tremendous range and that thing that so many singers, although talented, lack: feel. Mr Roswold really believes in every word he sings and gives the lyrics an extra layer, a depth that is compelling to say the least.
I´ve been known to boldly claim that any song under 10 minutes should be considered to be an intro. Or a ditty. I jest but my love for long, epic songs came to be after being exposed to Iron Maiden´s 13 minute “Rime of The Ancient Mariner” at the tender age of ten.
The crown jewel in this splendid progressive tiara is the 17 minute, five part behemoth “Metamorphosis”. I could spent the next few paragraphs praising this epic but just take my word for it. It is bleeping awesome.
This monster of a song concludes one of the finest debut albums not only in the genre but in metal overall.
Rating: 9,5 reasonable voices out of 10
Zero Hour – The Towers of Avarice
We now take our imagined TARDIS and through wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff we travel all the way back to the spaceyear 2001 and the masterpiece that is “The Towers of Avarice”. This conceptual work about a society that is forced to move underground due to opression from the rich and privileged is sadly as poignant and on point as it was when it was released.
It must be pointed out that singer Eric Roswold gives the performance of a lifetime. He was amazing on the debut album but here he is just on a new level of incredible.
Everything that I loved about the predecessor is still present and finetuned to perfection. The almost Meshuggah-esque staccato guitars interspersed with ambient passages makes for an intriguing audio experience. When the lovingly crafted ballad “Reflections” comes sweeping this particular geek actually tears up a bit.
The amazing 15 minute sneering beast that is “Demise and Vestige” rips at your flesh with aggressive riffing and terrific use of odd time signatures. Being one of Zero Hours most progressive and technical songs says a lot. There´s not a lot of 4/4 to be found here. So the disclaimer for both these albums are that you have to give them time to sink in. Especially “The Towers of Avarice” has more layers than an bucketload of onions. For every listen you uncover something new, additional details that you previously missed somehow.
This record is one of the reasons I wanted to start a column that puts a spotlight on albums and/or bands that did not get the attention and praise they deserved. “The Towers of Avarice” is nothing but a stone cold classic if you ask me.
Rating: 10 rebellious subterraneans out of 10